The lights are on
Ever since the first installment, the Gears of War series has had a reputation for being one of the most polished and technically sound franchises in gaming. This didn’t happen by accident, as Epic’s in-house QA department is a key part of the equation. While we were at the studio for our recent cover story, I had a chance to speak with senior QA manager Prince Arrington about the process.
Game Informer: What are some things that set Epic's QA process apart from other developers?
Prince Arrington: The main thing is, there are a lot of studios. I know people in the industry where their test team is just that...they test a game. They have test cases, and they run them. Ours is very organic. We run test cases, and we do the typical things that your average test team does, but there are a lot of things we do that other test teams don't necessarily do. We're in charge of running the playtests, we're in charge of all the performance and memory testing on the game, and the team also gives subjective feedback. We're in charge of all the general bugging.
In short, the answer is that we're more integrated in the process than your average test team. A lot of our testers are artists, programmers, and level designers. They're able to give feedback that your average tester wouldn't be able to do. When we hire people, we make sure we're hiring people that actually bring value to the team, as opposed to someone who can just sit there and play the game for 8 hours. Our interview process is a little more rigid than your average test team. Most people will take you if you’re a warm body. The interview process here at Epic is pretty intense. We make sure we're hiring the best. I know there are other studios that have very technical testers, but everybody here understands software development, everybody here understands game development. It makes it very easy for us to talk to developers and have them actually buy into what we're saying. My guys actually do know what they're talking about.
We're cross-training. Everybody's learning how to use the editor. Everybody's learning how to use the tools. Everybody's learning to how to work performance and memory. There's not one person on our team that couldn't go to another studio and basically become a lead there. We're not just a test house where we throw numbers at the game. I'd rather have 30 tests on Gears locally than 100 testers in some other country. It's just, from a value service, we're more valuable. We don't have drones. You see in this industry, a lot of the test teams tend to be drones. That's probably going to get me flamed at some point.
What did you do QA on before Gears?
Last game I did QA for was Summit Strike, I think. Then I was a producer on GRAW and GRAW 2. Then I got the opportunity to come to Epic.
How many testers do you have here at Epic?
In total, 53.
Tell me a little bit about the actual room where most of the testing is done.
It's a big room we call the "hollow," and it has about thirty testers. They're basically set up in rows, and we try to segregate them by discipline. Multiplayer will be here, and the single-player team will be over here. Every day around four, we basically have a free-for-all. Happy fun time, where everybody plays together. Gets everybody involved and fresh eyes on the project, because the single player team typically doesn't look at multiplayer often. So it gives them an opportunity where people that don't play it all the time get fresh eyes on it. It's a good way for them to just kind of unwind and relax. Just doing single player all the time, while it's fun, it's nice to kind of get that release and curse at your friends and talk a lot of smack. It's set up in such a way that the new testers are integrated with the veteran testers so they're learning on the fly and they're having good role models to learn from. When we put people in the room, we put them in there with a purpose. The lead is segregated off from everyone else, but easily accessible for everybody to get to.